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Looking at the numbers, many institutions and outside groups are calling for fundamental reforms to the way higher education has traditionally operated.

In that 2011 book, authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa used student scores on the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which measures critical-thinking skills, to conclude that despite all the time and money being spent, very little learning was occurring on college campuses.

Data also reveal that time to degree has extended and graduation rates are lower than many would like to see, especially because the surest way to stave off an excessive debt burden is to graduate on time, if not early.

Among the implications: Traditional, rigid lecture classes might not work as well for students who must work their way through college or adult learners, who comprise more than 40 percent of U. Many people begin their higher education career at the community college level, due to those schools’ relatively low costs and flexible scheduling.

What’s often referred to as the “2 2” approach – two years at a junior college followed by two years at a university – is becoming increasingly common as the lines between the different levels of education begin to blur.

At a 1979 meeting of The University of Texas Arts and Sciences Foundation in San Antonio, Peter Flawn, then-president of UT-Austin, railed against what he dubbed the “widget theory” of education.

The notion, he said, is “that a college or university is a manufacturing enterprise that produces products called academic degrees in basically the same way as a company such as Universal Widgets Inc.

The need for more flexible learning options also has led to the proliferation of online courses, a model that represents a radical departure from the traditional lecture-style classroom.